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to win tour­na­ments for my­self.” How­ever, af­ter Europe had won at Celtic Manor, with Rory con­tribut­ing two points out of the four he con­tested, he re­vised his opin­ion with a joke. “It’s the best ex­hi­bi­tion in the world!” he de­clared to cheers from his team­mates. McIl­roy and Poul­ter were four­ball part­ners in that match on the sec­ond day of the 2012 Ry­der Cup at Me­d­i­nah. Af­ter Rory had won the 13th with a birdie, Poul­ter birdied the last five holes to beat Ja­son Dufner and Zach John­son.

The next morn­ing, McIl­roy al­most missed his tee-time for his sin­gles be­cause he’d been look­ing at the clock on Golf Chan­nel, which was on Eastern Time whereas Chicago is on Cen­tral Time. The PGA of Amer­ica ar­ranged a po­lice es­cort to get him to the church… sorry, the course on time. Among his helpers was Ms Stoll, the young lady who is set to be­come Mrs McIl­roy. On the day McIl­roy met his match he saw off Kee­gan Bradley 2&1. At Gle­nea­gles in 2014, he earned two points from four be­fore de­mol­ish­ing Rickie Fowler in the sin­gles.

Go­ing into the matches at Hazel­tine, McIl­roy had the week be­fore­hand won the Tour Cham­pi­onship, the fi­nal event on the PGA Tour, with a clos­ing 64, and thus claimed the FedEx Cup. Pre­dictably rid­den hard by cap­tain Dar­ren Clarke, he earned three points out of four over the first two days. In his piv­otal sin­gles match against Pa­trick Reed, how­ever, he came up against a man in­spired. At times the golf was pre­pos­ter­ous. In a four-hole stretch

from the 5th they were a com­bined to­tal of nine-un­der par. Reed beat him on 18 and the USA won the Ry­der Cup – for the first time since 2008 and for the first time with McIl­roy on the Euro­pean team.

A life lived on Twit­ter

Like many celebri­ties, McIl­roy prefers to con­nect di­rectly with his fans on Twit­ter than via set-piece in­ter­views. At the 2010 Dubai World Cham­pi­onship, Ian Poul­ter ef­fec­tively lost his play-off with Robert Karls­son when he in­curred a one-shot penalty af­ter drop­ping his ball on the marker he’d placed on the green. McIl­roy tweeted: ‘Poults may not have won the Dubai World Cham­pi­onship, but he could be in with a shout for tid­dly­winks world cham­pi­onship!’ In De­cem­ber, a fan asked Rory why he didn’t wear a cap at the Ry­der Cup. McIl­roy replied, ‘I’ve a pea head and the hats were way too big for me!’ No big-head­ed­ness there!

Back to those 2011 tweets with Poul­ter. Barcelona won that Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal but in the me­dia cen­tre af­ter his US

Open win the fol­low­ing month, McIl­roy took a photo of the press pack with the tro­phy in the fore­ground so he could put it on Twit­ter. “I’ve waited all week to do this,” he ex­plained glee­fully. In the Amer­i­can digital mag­a­zine, Golf World, Ron Si­rak wrote: “In nearly 15 years as a pro, noth­ing close to that spon­ta­neous ever oc­curred with Tiger Woods.”

McIl­roy was the first golfer to be billed as ‘the next Tiger Woods’. He’s not that good but he knows his place and he’s proud of it. At the Open last sum­mer, he was re­minded that he hadn’t won a ma­jor for two years while Jor­dan Spi­eth, Ja­son Day and Dustin John­son had and were catch­ing up on him. “Yes,” he an­swered. “I’m pleased they’ve got their four ma­jors and I’m pleased I’ve got my four.” Touché.

Un­usu­ally, for such an em­i­nent sports­man, McIl­roy is not ul­tra-com­pet­i­tive; the kind of ath­lete who might say some­thing like: “I have to win at ev­ery­thing. I wouldn’t even let my 10-year-old beat me at ta­ble foot­ball.” McIl­roy told Golf Digest: “I feel like I’ve de­vel­oped a ruth­less streak on the golf course… but I’ve no real am­bi­tion to be the best at any­thing else. If we’re play­ing cards, or a game of pool, I’d hap­pily let some­one win just to keep them happy.”

Just not on the golf course. In De­cem­ber, Paul McGin­ley, McIl­roy’s Ry­der Cup cap­tain at Gle­nea­gles, told The Times: “Rory is the most en­ter­tain­ing golfer in the world…

He’s got a bit of swag­ger about him; an ar­ro­gance.” The same month, Jack Nick­laus told the BBC’s Iain Carter. “Rory is one of those young men who has got a tremen­dous amount of tal­ent [but] if he wishes to dom­i­nate and go for­ward, he’s got to im­prove. Cer­tainly he has all the tools to be able to do it; it is just whether he has the de­sire and the will­ing­ness to give up some other things. What­ever Rory does he has es­tab­lished him­self as one of the great play­ers that has ever played the game.”

When Andy Mur­ray won the BBC’s SPOTY award for the third time in De­cem­ber, there was some con­tem­pla­tion that he might be the UK’s great­est-ever ath­lete – this though at the time of writ­ing he has three Grand Slams com­pared to McIl­roy’s four ma­jors. (It’s eas­ier to leave Nick Faldo out of this.) OK, so McIl­roy has dou­ble-bo­geyed the Olympics while Mur­ray is a dou­ble cham­pion, but he’s been on three win­ning Ry­der Cup teams ver­sus one Davis Cup. McIl­roy has an MBE. Mur­ray re­cently be­came a knight.

McIl­roy will be 28 in May, 11 days be­fore Mur­ray turns 30. The lat­ter likely has four years left at the top. Rory could have 14. But what the Ir­ish­man needs soon is not a tap on the shoul­der with a sword but a tap-in for a fifth ma­jor. Then a sixth. And then.

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